Real Rebels Don’t Take Corporate Cash

The Guggenheim recently closed a fun retrospective of the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. In it, hundreds of odd sculptural items hung from the museum’s ceiling at varying heights, gradually revealing themselves on the trek up the Guggenheim’s classic spiral ramp. From the child-size Hitler to the fake pigeons and animal skeletons, it was a kooky, enjoyable exhibit largely for its silly strangeness.

The artist and the Guggenheim didn’t see it that way, though. Their vision of the work was “bolder” and more “political:” “Cattelan creates unsettlingly veristic sculptures that reveal contradictions at the core of today’s society,” wrote the show’s curators. “While bold and irreverent, the work is also deadly serious in its scathing critique of authority and the abuse of power.”

All brought to you by Citibank, Xerox and dozens of other season sponsors.

How exactly is one supposed to take a “scathing critique of authority” seriously when it’s sponsored by cash from global banks and multinational corporations? It’s not that there isn’t an appropriate way to handle sponsorship—artists have had patrons for centuries—but the overwhelmingly vague petulance with which contemporary visual artists shroud their work always positions The Man as the winner, especially when artists call their work political. Nipping the hand that feeds them only highlights who is really calling the shots.

In The Road to Mecca, Roundabout’s Broadway revival of the 1988 Athol Fugard play, Rosemary Harris plays an eccentric South African artist whose bizarre, concrete sculptures have earned her the disdain and irritation of her neighbors. [Read more…]


Mike Daisey Goes Viral

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” was hands down one of last year’s best and most provocative plays–in it, solo performer Mike Daisey tracked his visit to a Chinese factory that produces Apple products. It was a damning, complicated and funny saga, one that lingered long after the curtain.

I joined Daisy’s  mailing list after the show, and have been getting period emails since. Yesterday’s update, below, is seriously exciting and worth reading. Yes, theater matters!

Hello All,

I can’t tell you how excited I am to send this email to you.

First, if you haven’t heard, during this break in the run at the Public we spent a month collaborating with Ira Glass and THIS AMERICAN LIFE to adapt THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS for the radio.

It aired the weekend of January 6th in a special episode of THIS AMERICAN LIFE where the only story was our excerpt of the monologue adapted for the radio, followed by a discussion featuring TAL doing extensive fact checking, interviews with Chinese labor activists, and a debate between myself and Nicholas Kristoff.

You can listen to the show here:

Apple was asked to be on the show or to respond in any way. They refused.

In its first week the episode was the most downloaded in THIS AMERICAN LIFE’s history. The internet exploded, and the story went everywhere—I received over a thousand emails in just a few days; the response was overwhelming.

That same week news broke that hundreds of Foxconn workers had a stand-off that lasted two days, where they were all threatening mass suicide by throwing themselves off the roof of the plant over their working conditions.

[Read more…]


Happy censorship day! The poster for Young Jean Lee’s just-opened Untitled Feminist Show has a little something in common with Google, Wikipedia and many other major sites that are protesting two anti-piracy bills: the censor’s little black rectangle. Gender norms and Internet freedom might not have much in common, but today they’re sharing some pretty arresting imagery.

Untitled Feminist Show, part of PS122’s COIL Festival, advertises itself thusly…

… as do these protesting websites:




Seems there’s been a run on virtual, wedge sharpies, eh?

Posts for American Theatre Mag’s “The Circle”

Yes, theater-words has been depressingly barren for the past two months, but this dearth is not without good reason: I’ve been cutting my teeth in loads of fun, smaller pieces over at the wonderful American Theatre Magazine. Grab the print edition for those stories (it’s found “in fine bookstores everywhere”), or check out these links to pieces I’ve wrote for the Magazine’s blog, TCG Circle:

The Canadian Club
– dance-theatre is gettin’ out of town!

Somewhere That’s Green – art meets sustainability meets programming

A Real Turkey – Arena Stage invites the military to Thanksgiving

Why is the Sequel Never the Equal? – of plays and sequels

Fleet Week on Broadway

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Fleet Week is the unofficial opening day of summer in New York. Uniformed sailors float in for sweaty city fun, wandering the streets in search of a sweet, tangy bite of the Big Apple. The men and women are homogenous émigrés in sea of dissonant color and style, beacons of sameness in a city that idolizes individuality.

Paradoxically, it’s those very uniforms that stand out most in a crowd, a fact apparent at a Fleet Week performance of “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” I attended.

[Read more…]

Handouts at “The Normal Heart”

Sometimes it’s best to let powerful work speak for itself. The Broadway revival of “The Normal Heart” is one such instance: At the risk of trivializing this extraordinary production, all I’ll say is, go see it!

But some words from the playwright will do. Check out a letter from Larry Kramer, below, that’s handed out after the show. Its sense of passionate rage lives in every second of “The Normal Heart,” Kramer’s 1985 play about the AIDS crisis.

“Don’t Fire, the Guns Are Loaded!”

Statue of Turkish revolutionary Ataturk (photo by theater-words)

In his monumental books, the brilliant Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk carefully draws a world that both screams for political action and aches for a beautiful, melancholic past. It’s a furious, self-aware kind of nostalgia that seeps into every nook and cranny of his tight, Nobel-winning prose.

“Snow,” one of Pamuk’s more recent novels, is no exception to this rule: a provincial Turkish town’s civic disaster (Muslim girls are hanging themselves) is played in vivid counterpoint to a poet’s delicate journey to enlightenment. It’s a searing story that has made Pamuk (already a controversial figure) even more divisive in his homeland.

[Read more…]

Belarussian Update

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that “Dozens of governments pledged more than $120 million in aid to opposition groups in Belarus.” The US and EU recently implemented sanctions against this former Soviet State’s officials. (In December Belarus enacted violent crackdowns on dissidents following its corrupt presidential election.)

Last week I wrote about a peaceful protest held several blocks from the Belarussian Mission to the UN. Spearheaded by the Public Theater—where the peresecuted group “Free Belarus” was performing “Being Harold Pinter”—the demonstration was well-behaved but heartfelt. It’s encouraging to think that that protest may have been some small part of the renewed interest in Belarus’ rocky relationship with free speech. Maybe it, um, made a difference?!

Here’s hoping prosperity, freedom, and great art emerge out of this development.

Jeevay Belarus, indeed!

Peace, Love, and Belarus

In a gesture of solidarity and dissent, we’re gathering today to protest censorship. “Free Belarus,” a theater company performing in downtown’s Under the Radar Festival, has temporarily escaped suppression by fleeing Belarus for New York. Their play, “Being Harold Pinter,” is the runaway hit of the moment.


Today’s demonstration has been organized via text message: “PROTEST JAN 19@12P. RAIN OR SHINE. WE WILL NOT BE DETERRED. SPREAD THE WORD.” The Public Theater (which runs Under the Radar) is producing the event with Amnesty International. At noon, the scheduled starting time, about 200 very prompt people have gathered on East 67th and Lex. Some signs are homemade but most bear the trademark diagonal, block lettering of all Public Theater advertising. (Am I a cynic for thinking that this marketing continuity makes the whole protest look like an exercise in brand expansion?)

We’re a docile lot, we protestors. We file carefully onto our patch of sidewalk on the southern side of the street while photographers take their place to our north. It’s worth noting that we’re actually a whole block away from the Belarusian mission to the UN — permit shenanigans mean we can only shout to that most political of sites, the Hunter College Bookstore.

Still, the event has a feeling of urgency. Public Theater interns lead chants:

Intern: “What do we want?”

Us: “Human Rights!”

Intern: “When do we want it?”

Us: “Now!”

When we tire of this call and response, we’re told to shout something that sounds like “Jeevay Belarus! Jeevay Belarus!” This is Belarusian, I guess; most of us just skip the “Jeevay” part and join in on “Belarus.” (Note to self: learn Belarusian for next year’s protest.)

The Police are out, and, ever to form, we all politely defer and go where we’re told. We don’t want to crowd the sidewalk, do we?

[Read more…]

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